Economy forces some to pass up Greek life

BY SAM LANE | AUGUST 20, 2009 7:05 AM

Beyond the hustle and bustle of this week’s UI Greek rush festivities is a lingering concern about sororities and fraternities.

As the recession continues, students are reconsidering their involvement. Nationally, the number of incoming freshmen who bypass greek organizations is increasing because of financial constraints.

The growing concern in potential members about covering the high cost of dues has become a bigger issue on the UI campus, but local sorority leaders said the number of students rushing this week is consistent with that of past years.

It is unclear whether participation in fraternity rush, which starts Aug. 30, will also stay steady.

A Chronicle of Higher Education report shows the percentage of incoming freshmen likely to join a fraternity or sorority across the nation has decreased from 15 percent in 1996 to 9.5 percent in 2005. Ten percent of all UI students are members of a greek organization, a figure UI officials said has remained consistent.

Alissa Wanless, the vice president of recruitment for the UI Panhellenic Council — which oversees sororities — said she’s seen more worry over the financial aspect of taking on greek life.

“People have voiced their concerns regarding dues and other financial issues,” she said. “They’re very up-front about those.”

The average yearly cost of sorority membership at the UI is $5,493 for live-in members and $1,467 for those who live elsewhere. An average new member fee of $185.20 is also assessed at the beginning of membership.

These costs can discourage both new members and those who have already pledged.

UI senior Margaret Nanninga pledged Alpha Epsilon Phi at the beginning of her sophomore year, but she said high prices forced her to disaffiliate herself halfway through her junior year.

“Money was the biggest issue,” she said. “I was paying for myself.”

Nanninga said her sorority’s adviser tried to dissuade her from leaving, but she wasn’t offered any other financial options.

Despite consistent numbers, UI greek-community officials said they are working harder to increase the number of pledges and ensure retention by being up-front about costs.

Wanless said officials made several changes to the recruitment process, both in marketing and costs. They’ve offered various deals to students, including saving money if they sign up with a friend.

The council’s officials have installed recruitment guides to help potential members, shortened the length of rush days, and given out information on financial obligations of membership.

The Panhellenic Council, as well as sorority and fraternity chapters, is also better publicizing its scholarships based on academics and financial need.

Phil Barrett, the vice president for programming for the UI Interfraternity Council, said 11 of the UI’s 14 fraternities are offering academic scholarships to incoming freshmen.

Rachel Levine, a 2009 UI graduate and former Alpha Epsilon Phi sister, said she is sponsoring first-year dues for one new member.

“For some women who decline their bids, the biggest reason is that they can’t afford it,” Levine said. “We hate to deny women because they can’t afford it.”

Despite the economy, some freshmen continue to roam campus this week in hopes of joining a sorority.

UI freshman Molly Lersten, who is rushing this week, said costs aren’t deterring her from participating.

“I’m excited to meet new people and be a part of something early,” she said.

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